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At state hearing in Hempfield, DA says heroin use in Butler County on the rise

| Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Butler County District Attorney Richard Goldinger told state lawmakers that heroin abuse in the county is rapidly on the rise.

“Referrals at the county drug and alcohol program for heroin addiction have nearly doubled in the last year,” he told a panel of lawmakers taking testimony in Hempfield, Westmoreland County, last week.

“We have also seen an increase in drug arrests where heroin is the dealer's drug. Heroin users are often also pill abusers who will use whichever of the drugs that are more accessible when addicts want to get high,” he said.

The state House Subcommittee on Crime and Corrections, chaired by Rep. Tim Krieger, R-Delmont, conducted the first of three statewide hearings to gather testimony from law enforcement officials about the surge in heroin use and deaths from drug overdoses.

Heroin comes into Pennsylvania along the major travel arteries — I-70, I-80 and the Turnpike from the west; I-95 from the south; and via rural airstrips.

“In Butler, we have seen dealers from Pittsburgh, Detroit and now Philadelphia controlling the flow of heroin into our community,” Goldinger said.

When older residents die, landlords sometimes buy their homes and turn them into Section 8 housing, he said. Dealers will use a young woman to rent a federally subsidized apartment so dealers can move in to sell drugs, Goldinger said.

“Unfortunately, most of these dealers are gone by the time law enforcement finds out who they are, and most of the local users who could be utilized as confidential informants are too afraid of these Philadelphia dealers to make controlled buys from them,” he said.

David Ellis, regional director of the state Bureau of Narcotics Investigations in North Huntingdon, Westmoreland County, said investigations by the Attorney General's Office showed the availability of heroin in the state is “alarmingly high.”

“The revenue flowing back to Mexico, whether in the form of bulk cash or wire transfers, is simply remarkable, estimated at several billion dollars per year,” he said.

Detective Rick Ealing of the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office said the dealers are smart and sophisticated.

“They've studied every law enforcement technique that we have and found ways to get around them,” he said.

Detective Kevin Price of the Cambria County Drug Task Force said his unit arrested 150 dealers this summer. The task force discovered a drug pipeline from Philadelphia into Cambria, Bedford and Somerset counties. Price said the task force recently seized 50,000 stamp bags of heroin valued at $250,000 during the search of an apartment occupied by three dealers.

The subcommittee heard testimony from two recovering addicts, Caitlyn Stone and Nicholas Carrozza.

Stone said she began using marijuana and drinking alcohol before moving to pills and then heroin. Carrozza went to jail for selling drugs. He was released on parole, then went on the run, was caught and returned to jail.

“I wanted help,” he told the committee. “I didn't want to use. I was sick of being a junkie.”

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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